Namaste, mutha*&^%as!

It’s been so, so long.

I went back and edited the ‘About Me’ section of this blog the other night, and almost took out trail running and hot yoga, because it’s been such a long time since I’ve done either. But I left them, because I do love those two activities, for very different reasons but also for similar ones. Trail running. Finding a rhythm, inhaling three steps, exhaling three steps, navigating rocks and roots and mud and snow, ducking under branches and jumping over streams. It’s a primal connection with instinct and endurance, with the woods and the landscape. I haven’t completely put trail running on the back burner, and I’ve definitely been to the woods quite a bit over the past couple of years, but hot yoga was actually forbidden until at least the fall, and frankly I have put it off since because I was anxious about being able to get through a class, and I couldn’t find a shirt that I could be comfortable in in all those bendy, bent-over, folded up positions in a room crammed full of sweaty, cleavage-y, fit, long-haired women. (Have you seen some of the women who do hot yoga? It’s kind of inspiring. Or enraging. Or maybe both.) Also, my hair was a concern because there is no escaping a good full body sweat in hot yoga, and the last time I attempted a good workout it was at the trampoline park and my hair curled so tightly to my head because of my efforts that I had no choice but to cover my head with a toque for the remainder of the evening, and there really is no toque option in hot yoga. So I’ve been putting it off.

Last week I woke up having dreamed about yoga. And running. And I decided it was a sign of some sort of readiness, and so I went shopping, in the hopes of finding a shirt that, unlike the lovely breast-revealing variety that is à la mode in hot yoga, covered me enough to allow me to move freely without being distracted by the possibility of  inadvertently flashing my scars while warrior-child-or-downward-dog-posing. That variety of yoga shirt is actually pretty tough to find, in case you were in the market.

This shirt actually made me miserable when I put it on and fitted it with its 'accoutrements', which are, unfortunately, rather heavy for a shirt of this fabric, and kind of settled somewhere in the middle of my chest in one mushy lump. I wore a t-shirt instead. But I thank this shirt for being a catalyst. I will put it away for post-reconstruction hot yoga.

This shirt actually made me miserable when I put it on and fitted it with its ‘accoutrements’, which are, unfortunately, rather heavy for a shirt of this fabric, and, also unfortunately, kind of settled somewhere in the middle of my chest in one mushy lump. I wore a t-shirt instead. But I thank this shirt for being a catalyst. I will put it away for post-reconstruction hot yoga.

So. I booked a spot for today’s hot flow class, and started the pre-yoga panic. Upon arrival there, as is always the case in these classes, we are encouraged to focus inward, to let go of any nagging thoughts or worries. Yep. Almost burst into laughter then, and had to refocus, because they take their silence very, very seriously in hot yoga. Okay. Breathed in through my nose. Out through my mouth. Then both through my nose. ‘Focus on your breathing.’

My inner dialogue went something like this from that point forward.

Right. Try not to focus on the fact that we are packed in like sardines, and I am very aware of the reality that the proximity of the woman to my right will make it almost impossible, unless she is very crafty, for her not to sweat on me. We will have to work together. Okay. Refocus.

Inhale. Exhale.

‘Sometimes our minds find it hard to quiet.’ Internal burst of laughter again. No. Shit. Okay. Refocus. Why the HELL did I decide to lay down beside the mirror?! One glance confirms everything I feel about my body as of late. I used to be comfortable in front of the mirror in hot yoga. I felt strong. Balanced. Beautiful. I open my eyes, roll my head to my left and see the rapidly frizzing hair, the red face, the extra few inches packed onto my usually very flat stomach, the visual reminder of cancer (shit. This shirt doesn’t cover my lymph node scar – STOP. Let that shit go, Gouthro.

Breathe in. Out.

‘As you focus on your breathing, try to think about what you want out of your practise today.’

First: To make it through to the end of the class without vomiting, passing out, falling down,  punching someone with beautiful breasts, or crying.

Inhale. Exhale. (They really do give you enough time at the beginning of class to find that focus, to chill the hell out and remember why you’re there.)

Then: A reconnect. Something. Anything. Please let me find, today, in this next hour, that my body still has strength. Flexibility. Please, for this hour, let me recognize myself. Let me feel at peace in and connected to my body.

And that was when I was able to dig deep enough to focus on that goal, to forget about everyone else in that room. To push aside thoughts about my extra inches, about my scars, about having the wrong shirt and hair that’s too curly, to forget about trauma and cancer for an hour, and work my body out like it hasn’t been worked out since April, 2013.

And, I found tonight that sometimes there are good surprises, which is something I haven’t had the courage to believe for some time now. I reached my goal. For an hour, I found my rhythm again. I made demands of my body, and it listened. It obediently flexed, planked, cobra’d, flowed and it sweated. It hurt; that has to be said. But not enough to stop me, not enough to make me vomit, pass out, fall down, punch someone with beautiful breasts, or cry.

What a beautiful release, to be fully present in my body – this flawed, damaged body, and find joy and strength in it again. What a beautiful, much-needed release.

Namaste.

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Flip or flop, front or back (Or, making the reconstruction decision)

Last week I got the call I’ve been waiting for (and maybe dreading in equal measure). The local plastic surgeon, who had had my referral in since early November, and whose answering service clearly stated that if your referral was less than four months old basically don’t bother leaving a message, was ready to see me. Like soon. Like today.

My hope for reconstruction was that I would have the Diep flap surgery, an abdominal surgery that involves taking the skin and fat from your abdomen (I’ve been growing mine since August) and moves it to your chest, covering mastectomy scars and forming lovely plump breasts made from your own flesh. Dreamy, right? No muscle removal necessary, minimizing the risk of hernia and other various sundry annoyances. My surgeons from Winnipeg encouraged me to gain 10-15 lbs and come back when my skin was nice and strong and they would fix me up. Yeah. Not going back there. That decision was made about two months after being diagnosed with PTSD, following my two-in-a-week wide-awake surgeries there, when my implants were summarily removed in front of a team of residents and I was lucky enough (please, please hear my sarcasm here) to be very much awake and present for all of it.

I was very excited to hear about the new surgeon in town. I knew he had done the Diep flap surgery, with much success, many times before.

Well. It turns out he doesn’t do it here. There just isn’t a big enough team. And I get it. They need a specific kind of plastics team to do this surgery. There’s micro-surgery involved. It’s pretty complicated. Blood supplies being transferred from groin to chest and such.

What he does do is the latissimus dorsi flap surgery. He takes a flap of skin AND MUSCLE from the back, tunnels it under the skin under the armpit onto the chest, so that it actually never leaves your body. Reattaches it and forms, again, a lovely breast. Not so plump though. Tissue expander (again), swapped out for implants later (again), but with much less risk, because the skin he’ll be working with has not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous radiation. That skin, apparently, is simply no longer viable. Whatever that means. The surgeries are not without their risks, for sure.

There is a very intimidating booklet on all the risks involved: scarring, bleeding, infection, wound problems, bruising and swelling, damage to local structures, nerve injury, anaesthetic related complications, systemic complications, mood changes, cosmetic complications. The list is long.

There is a very intimidating booklet on all the risks involved: scarring, bleeding, infection, wound problems, bruising and swelling, damage to local structures, nerve injury, anaesthetic related complications, systemic complications, mood changes, cosmetic complications. The list is long.

What all of this means is that I have a decision to make. Do I stay close to home, to family, far away from planes I have to travel with drains hanging off of me, and go with the loss of a muscle from my back, apparently a ‘climbing’ muscle which I won’t miss very much, even in yoga, or do I embark on the endless back-forth-back-forth consultations, pre-op, operation and post-op appointments in another town, far from home, so that I can have the cadillac of breast reconstructions? Do I want my scars in the front or the back (the new ones, I mean)? Is it more acceptable for me to sport a new, hip-to-hip scar above my C-section scars, or to sketch out some new ones, armpit to armpit across my back, that can be neatly hidden by a bra strap that I may not even need with my new stand-on-their-own breasts?

I have four weeks to decide. Well. I have all the time I want to decide. But it would be in my best interests, I think, to figure it out soon. Because this is starting to feel like the never-ending breast saga. Surgery can’t happen until at least July. Likely not until the fall. Which is about 5 months later than I had hoped.

I’m going to weigh the pros and cons. Think about my family, my kids. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope I make the right decision for me, one that will allow me to look at myself in the mirror and see something other than the punishing scars of cancer. One that will allow for full recovery, supported by surgeons I trust and people I count on.

Fingers crossed. And all good vibes appreciated!

Fingers crossed. And all good vibes appreciated!